Southern states among those at highest risk for corruption

A groundbreaking assessment of anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states finds that several in the South are at particularly high risk of corruption -- and none in the region are among the top grade-earners.

The State Integrity Investigation -- a partnership between the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International -- released full state report cards handing out letter grades for corruption risk. The analysis was carried out by experienced journalists who graded each state government using over 300 measures looking at campaign finance, ethics laws, lobbying regulations and management of state pension funds.

The State Integrity Investigation "is not a measure of morality or good behavior of the people serving in state government," the project's blog explains. "Rather, it is a test of the structure that governs the government, documenting the laws on the books and investigating the actions that enforce those laws."

Among the eight states that received failing grades of 58 percent or less, three were in the South: South Carolina at 57 percent, Virginia at 55 percent, and Georgia, which at 49 percent ranked lowest among all the states in terms of corruption protections.

The project observes that "Georgia's ethics laws are loaded with loopholes and are poorly enforced." It attributes South Carolina's low score to its "weak asset disclosure law, loophole-ridden campaign finance regulations, and toothless ethics commission." And Virginia ranks near the bottom because it has "no state ethics commission, no campaign finance limits, and lax oversight rules."

New Jersey received the highest grade in the nation at 87 percent, a B-plus. No states in the South earned any higher than a C grade, with Mississippi getting a C-plus at 79 percent and Tennessee getting a C with 76 percent. The average grade for all 13 Southern states* was 67 percent -- a D-plus.

To see where your state ranks and why, click here.

* Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

(Map of states color-coded by corruption risk, with states in red being at highest risk and those in green at lowest, from State Integrity Investigation.)